Chapter 1 : Marked

Publish Date: 14 March 2002

Notes: This is an Angel and Buffy AU. That does *not* mean an Angel and Buffy relationship. Actually, it will eventually be an Angel and William (Spike) relationship, but for now there is only a tiny bit of Angel / male, and some implied Angel / Darla.

I *ain't* kidding about the AU part, but at the same time, I think the characters are at least reasonably close to who they are in the Joss Whedon universe.

However, their *situations* are just a bit skewed. Centuries ago, there was a war between the humans and the world of the supernatural. Humanity did some really stupid things (to itself *and* everybody else) and as a consequence, lost. Vampire Law now rules the Earth, but it is a surprisingly beneficial rule, since the Prince of Darkness (a vampire -- *not* Angel) has a human soul.

---- oo00oo ----

The Vampire War Series
"Childe of the Blood"
-- Marked --

William was warm and comfortable, hovering on the edge of consciousness, when he was suddenly and rudely awoken by a small popping noise and the sensation of Sebastian butting against his side. It was about the time that he realised the cat was nowhere in sight that he also realised the momentary thump in his side had been the sensation of his medallion quietly imploding.

For a single heart-stopping moment Will thought he might be spared the Hunt through the simple expediency of heart failure. Then time resumed its normal flow, and with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, he realised that -- like everything else in his wretched life -- he wasn't going to be spared a single moment.

//Oh, joy,// he thought. //I'm a dead man. Only 22 and I'm gonna be Hunted 'n killed by some vampire -- some bloody *American* vampire with that stupid bloody accent -- somewhere in this stupid bloody city...// and he quietly cursed the Bitch and her asshole of a husband for dragging him across the Atlantic to Los Angeles, America, where a good English lad like him had no business being.

Well, okay... where a *bad* English lad like him had no business being.

Shit.

---- oo00oo ----

It was late October in the City of Angels and for the first time in decades the only Childe of the Prince of Darkness felt his demonic nature yearning for the Hunt. Angel -- or Angelus as he was publicly known -- hadn't felt any particular desire to hunt down and drink human blood in over 80 years. The demonic side of him, which had been perfectly satisfied to stalk, maim, and kill rogue demons and other dangerous non-humans for slightly more than eight decades, now wanted more.

Angel wasn't certain *why* he felt this odd desire to join the annual Hunt. The Hunt itself spanned the last seven nights of October every year, culminating in All Hallows Eve. This was the price humans paid in their own blood for the abject stupidity they had perpetrated -- on *everyone*, including themselves -- during the Vampire War. Tonight would be the first night of the Hunt, and some part of him was vaguely disquieted by his unexplained and rather sudden desire to participate. //Still,// he mused, //why not?// He wanted to, it was perfectly legal, and in fact -- given the number of years he *hadn't* participated -- it could even be said it was his vampiric *duty* to participate. So he would.

With the decision behind him, satisfaction spread throughout his veins, tinged with anticipation as his body subconsciously began to prepare itself for the physical challenge ahead. He would Hunt, and soon the most powerful blood of all -- human blood -- would be burning over his fangs and flowing down his throat like liquefied magic.

Unlife was good.

---- oo00oo ----

Will dressed hastily, debating whether to hide the broken medallion under his shirt. Evening would bring with it the first night of the Hunt, so he had a day's grace to prepare. //Prepare *what* for god's sake?!// he mentally berated himself. //I'm gonna die! Vampires are stronger, faster, and they can see 'n smell a helluva lot better 'n I can.//

But then, Will had had an awfully long time to think about what he'd do if he was unlucky enough to end up in the Hunt. He knew as much about vampires as any human could reasonably expect to figure out on his own, and if he could just stay alive until sunrise after the seventh night, he'd be free.

Free.

William had never known freedom. He'd lived all his life under a death sentence, in a household where he was despised and lived on sufferance. His mother -- whatever her name was -- had been a common London whore with no family and no money. However, she'd had the good fortune to give birth to her son on the same day, in the same hour, as a wealthy duchess in a private hospital across town.

Every human born into the world since the Vampire War, was also born into the magic of the subsequent Vampire Law. Humans, having lost the war, had been forced to accept the vampires' terms of complete surrender, and one of those terms was that a small percentage of all newborn humans would -- a few hours after birth -- form a unique birthmark over their left eye. The mark identified each child as a potential victim for the Hunt. Once they were 16 years of age, a marked child was then eligible to be Hunted, but not all of them were -- at least not right away. Actually, it was something of a lottery -- one in which each marked human aged 16 or over might, or might not, become magically 'active'. It was apparently a bit like having a smell that only vampires could detect. Far enough away, and they couldn't sense you, but close in, or near places you'd been, or things you'd touched, they could 'smell' your 'scent'. But there was no indication to tell the *humans* whether they were 'active' or not. Supposedly, this allowed a marked human to cling to the hope that they weren't 'active' and would not be Hunted. In practice, it meant that they seldom ran away, or were prepared to defend themselves when a vampire came calling.

//But humans,// Will mused, //-- ingenious little buggers that we are -- figured out how to tell whether we're 'active', *and* even how to get around bein' Hunted altogether.// The first discovery was why William was currently trying to decide whether to hide the broken medallion. If you could afford the cost of hiring a demon mage to make one, it was keyed into your life energy and became completely indestructible unless that energy was altered by becoming 'active' for the Hunt. The medallion of an 'active' human self-destructed: which was the popping noise that had woken Will this morning.

The second discovery was why he had the mark at all -- because he certainly hadn't been born to it.

The Duchess' child -- also a son -- had developed the mark a little over two hours after his birth. His parents had been horrified. Hastily, they'd applied to the Ministry of the Hunted for the right to adopt a Substitute. A little money in the right places, and they had clandestine access to the list of children whose parents were willing to give them up for Substitution. Few parents were willing. But with a little more money, Lord and Lady Melles gained access to the *other* list of newborns -- those who were considered to be 'at risk' because of their parents' situation or personality.

William -- son of a penniless prostitute -- was on the second list.

The magic that allowed Substitution required only three conditions -- first, that the two people involved be of the same gender; second, that they share the same birthday -- though not necessarily the same birth-year; and third, that the one who was to become the Substitute had to be less than three days old -- a newborn human child. The time and date of William's birth was a perfect match for Lord and Lady Melles' son; and William's mother -- having neither the money nor the desire to raise an illigitimate child by herself -- held out only long enough to ensure that the Melles could not be convinced to part with a little more cash.

As a young boy, William had imagined that 'the Bitch and Co' -- his mental name for Lady Melles and her aristocratic husband -- had somehow stolen him from his parents. Someday his Mum and Dad would come for him, and they would bring the police with them, demanding his return and breaking the spell of Substitution. But on his ninth birthday, after the Bitch had slapped him across the face for daring to speak back to Chef, he had yelled at her, "Just you wait 'til my *real* Mum 'n Dad come!", and it was then that he'd learned the awful truth.

Lady Melles had burst out laughing and declared, "Boy, your mother was a cheap prostitute who sold you to us for handful of coins and was grateful for the bargain! And if you had an ounce of intelligence in that stupid head of yours, you'd be grateful she did! Why, if it wasn't for dear Jonathan's 'unfortunate' situation, you wouldn't be living in our beautiful home, and with such advantages as no other child of your 'background' would ever have access to! In fact, you'd doubtless be pedalling your 'wares' right alongside your mother this very minute!"

William had been devastated. Lady Melles had enjoyed telling him about his mother far too much to be lying. He really *was* the nobody everyone said he was. No-one would be coming for him. He was a Substitute, and one day he was going to be Hunted and a vampire would kill him. His life was worthless except to preserve their own son for the family's future. It had hurt like nothing else in his life had hurt him. He'd always been treated as the lowest of the low, for although Lord and Lady Melles had always provided a bed -- no matter how shabby -- as well as clothing and food, they went out of their way to make him understand that this was *all* he was entitled to. No education, no treats, no birthday presents, no love -- and now, no illusions.

Curiously, there had been a certain freedom in the discovery.

Afterwards, William's nine-year-old brain had figured out that he didn't have to stay in the Melles household, and he certainly didn't have to do anything they told him to. The fact that he was a Substitute for their precious 'Jonathan' only meant that they were legally obligated to feed, house, and clothe him. But other than that... well, they had to keep a bed for him, but he didn't have to sleep in it. Of course, they could still hit him, and even the Bitch was stronger than he was, but if they hurt him too badly he might die, and then whoever killed him would inherit the mark from him. Death did not erase what was owed to vampires. In fact, several years later, William finally figured out that they had probably been half hoping that he *would* get himself killed on one of his 'outings'. Then they wouldn't have to put up with him anymore, and the mark would be somebody else's problem.

In the meantime, the world had opened up for him. He ran ragged in the streets in the worst parts of London. The mark above his eye ensured that no-one hurt him too badly -- nobody wanted to risk inheriting the mark from him. He saw his first non-humans -- discovering that demons had their own communities scattered haphazardly across London, and that they too, had their workers, their craftsmen, and even their own lords and ladies -- or, well... their own nobility at least, because some demons didn't seem to have gender, while others seemed to have more than just the usual two...

He learned that some demons mixed freely with their neighbours, while others refused to admit that humans were anything more than animals. He figured out that most demons seemed to prefer the company of their own kind, but some were willing to be friends. He realised that demons regarded *all* Humans -- marked or not -- as the property of vampires, and that because it was apparently written that way into Vampire Law, no demon would harm a human unless provoked. He was told that Vampires were the elite of demonkind, mostly because it had been their king and their kind who had defeated humanity in the war.

To the victor went the spoils -- and the right to rule.

He encountered magic for the first time and was enthralled at the little decorative lights outside a toy store. They floated in the air, but never burned or went out. He wished he could do magic too, but he knew that humans had somehow used up all their own magic, and now there was none left; and vampires didn't allow humans to have magic anyway.

He made friends with other children for the first time, and although the friendships were seldom close, at least he wasn't so alone anymore. He acquired the common English accent of the working class -- something that helped him blend in on the street, and -- as an added benefit -- annoyed hell out of the Bitch and Co; and he finally got himself the best -- or worst -- of all possible educations: that of the street survivor.

To properly enjoy himself, William's first discovery was that he needed money. However, after a few attempts at stealing from the The Bitch and Co, the senior butler had taken him aside and gravely informed him that if he continued to purloin items from the household, they would be forced to 'incarcerate' him somewhere. However, since this would be a lot of bother, they would much rather he simply stopped doing it. Basically, he was told that so long as he didn't embarrass Lord and Lady Melles by getting himself arrested, they really didn't care what he did. So he stopped stealing -- at least from them. Instead he learned how to steal from others, and even became a fair pickpocket. He also learned how to lie with a perfectly straight face, and how to use the mark over his eye to worm his way out of just about anything.

Having the mark didn't protect him from fights or black eyes, but it did ensure that nobody went too far. There was never a knife pulled on him -- never a gun involved. It also earned him a tremendous amount of forgiveness and sympathy. Everybody knew what the mark meant, and assumed that he was the son of some poor couple who didn't live in their neighbourhood. He never told anybody that he wasn't born to the mark -- that he'd been sold as a Substitute. He was too ashamed to admit that his mother had sold him for money and that he wasn't even *really* a marked child. So instead he pretended that he'd been born to it, and in return, nobody asked why he wasn't in school -- why should he be, when he might not live to see his 17th birthday? "Let him have his fun now, while he can," was the word on the street. There were so few marked kids on the street that they were all accorded the same 'special' treatment. Even the local cops were inclined to look the other way for minor offences. It was almost as if they were considered holy -- the sacrifice humanity made in return for the protection of Vampire Law.

Once he had money, William learned how to hang onto it. He learned how to avoid being robbed himself, who to pay off, who could get him what he wanted, and who to stay away from. He learned who seemed to have power, and who actually did, and he became at least minimally proficient at working out who meant what they said, and who was lying through their teeth. He figured out how to have fun and set out to pack as much as possible into however many years he had left.

In the Spring, just after he and 'Master Melles' turned twelve, 'dear Jonathan' became a big brother.

Elizabeth was born as a late-life child to Lord and Lady Melles and was adored by her parents and mostly ignored by her brother. William mostly ignored her too, except to sneak in every now and then to watch her sleeping in her crib. By now he knew how to come and go in the house whenever he liked, without being seen unless he wished to be, and for the most part he'd become as nocturnal as a vampire himself.

He'd never really been around babies, and he was curious. The first time he set eyes on her, he was thoroughly intrigued -- she was tiny! Miniature fingers on her chubby little hands -- so perfect! But at the same time, Will was glad *he* wouldn't be changing her nappy or letting her throw up all over him. He was both fascinated and repulsed, and a little intimidated by how fragile she appeared to be. So small a life... had he ever looked like that? For some obscure reason, he was grateful that the little girl never developed the dreaded 'mark'.

Time passed, and Will continued to sneak in and visit the sleeping child. Sometimes he would visit twice a week. Sometimes he wouldn't go for a couple of months. Four aimless but entertaining years later, he spent the evening of his sixteenth birthday sitting in an alley, shaking, and wondering if *this* year he'd be Hunted. Then he got up and went to visit 'Lizzy' -- as he'd come to think of her -- every night for two weeks.

The little four-year-old woke up on his third visit, and spoke to him for the first time...

"Hello." Elizabeth said quietly.

William jumped back from her bedside. //Cor, the little *bugger*,// he thought in shock, //she was only pretendin' to be asleep!// "Umm... hello y'self, Lizzy."

The child frowned. "Who's Lizzy?"

"Well, you o' course."

"But, my name's Elizabeth!" she said with a perfectly British upper-crust accent.

//Bloody hell,// Will thought, //they've got her on diction lessons already!// "Yeah, I know, but I'm gonna call you Lizzy for short."

"Oh. Alright."

They stared at each other for a while. //Well, this is weird,// and William wondered whether he'd have to stop visiting now that Lizzy had seen him.

"Are you going to stop visiting me now that I talked to you?"

William was shocked. Surely this little bit of nothing couldn't read minds! "Hang about.." he suddenly realised, "You *knew* I've been comin' here?!"

The little girl nodded solemnly. "Sometimes things was moved." she said.

"Oh. Sorry."

"It's okay," she reassured him. "It's nice to have a vampire godfather."

William felt his mouth drop open. "What?" he asked weakly.

"You know," Lizzy added, "like a fairy godmother, 'cept *after* the vampire fights."

//She means the Vampire War,// Will's dazed thoughts supplied.

"What..." he croaked, then cleared his throat and tried again, "Why do you think I'm your... vampire godfather?"

"Well..." she frowned, obviously trying to find the words, "you can get in past the house arms. Mummy and Daddy said our house has really good arms. Daddy told me so when Mary's house got robbed."

"Who's Mary?" he was assuming that by 'house arms' she meant the alarm system, which didn't bother him since it was coded to accept his thumb print, and he had a perfectly good key to the lower kitchen door anyway.

"My bestest friend. She's really great! She can almost whistle, and she paints really really good!"

"Right, so... the house, er... 'arms'?"

"Oh, yeah. So, if the house arms didn't grab you, then you must have magic to get past them. Only vampires can do magic; and you're only here at night -- like a vampire is; but you never try to bite me; and once I was having a scary dream, but then you came and I woke up a bit and the scary dream went away. So you're my vampire godfather."

Perfectly logical.

With a little more discussion, William was able to figure out that Lizzy actually thought the house had magic 'arms' that would grab people who tried to get in. She was particularly disappointed that he'd never seen them and expressed great interest in being shown what they looked like. He was hard pressed not to laugh when he explained to her that the 'a-LARms' were more like a magic 'voice' that screamed like a banshee when someone tried to break in.

They chatted about her friend Mary, and he told her funny stories he'd heard on the street that he *hoped* were okay for little girls who ought to be asleep. Eventually, he agreed that he would keep visiting her so long as she promised not to tell anyone about him. In turn, he promised to wake her up when he stopped by so they could talk. He even agreed that he *was* her vampire godfather, but absolutely refused to show her his fangs or magic, because after all, he wasn't a performing dog.

All in all, it was one of the nicest evenings he'd ever had... and every night for the rest of those two weeks was much the same.

The nightly visits came to an abrupt end however, when he got... distracted.

Emilia, or 'Emmy' as she liked to be called, was the daughter of a washerwoman and a dockhand. They had eight children -- none of them with the mark -- and considered themselves blessed by the presence of each one. Emmy was a friend -- one of very few he allowed close -- who'd met him and helped him at around the same time that he'd first turned up in their neighbourhood. She would warn him about people and situations he should avoid, but never tried to stop him. She'd pick him up after it all went wrong, but never say 'I told you so'. She'd kick him when he deserved it, praise him when he earned it, and laugh with him at the world. She was three years older than he was and if William could be said to have a 'best' friend, she was it.

Two weeks after his sixteenth birthday, she was also his first lover.

She'd asked to meet him late one night at a local pub. After a short visit with Lizzy, he'd headed over and spotted her just as she was saying goodnight to one of her older brothers. He'd thought at the time it might be Matthew -- the second oldest. It was hard to tell since Matthew and his older brother John looked so much alike.

"Will!" Emmy yelled and waved him over. "Come 'ave a drink!"

"Always, Luv," he laughed as he joined her. They chatted about friends and exchanged gossip. He told her about a washerwoman who'd died, and the family who didn't follow the trade. The lady's best customer lived only two blocks over from a family Emmy's mum did laundry for. Emmy promised she'd tell her mum, and in return let him know that her eldest brother John -- who worked on a fishing boat -- had heard that it would be a bit unhealthy for anyone who went down to the docks around 1am tomorrow night. "Probably drugs," she added with a shrug.

William snorted, "Yeah, well, if you're brother already knows, then everybody else knows too. It'll be a wonder if they're not all nicked by the bloody coppers."

Her smile agreed with him, and then she leaned in close. Her warm breath tickled his ear as she whispered, "Will m' boy, there's somethin' rather personal I'd like t' ask you. Would y' mind a quiet walk somewhere private for a bit?"

"Emmy?" William was as confused by her sultry tone as by the actual question. "Is everythin' alright?"

"Just fine, Will," she replied with a reassuring smile. "Will y' come?"

"Sure."

They walked outside, and after a little silence, which confused Will all the more, Emmy finally opened up. "Will," she began, "d'y know about men and women... you know... lyin' together?"

Whatever Will had thought she might say... it was definitely *not* that! He was grateful that it was dark, and his blush would be hard to see. "'Course I do, Emmy," he replied, amazed at the relaxed tone that somehow found its way out of his mouth.

"No... I didn't mean... I *know* y' know 'bout how it works 'n all that... I meant..." and she bit her lip in confusion.

"Emmy," Will was suddenly cold with rage, "has that bastard Jamie knocked you up? If he 'as, I swear... I swear I'll bash him black 'n blue f'r not marryin' you!"

She burst out laughing. "Ah Will," she cried, "y'r the best friend anyone could ever hope t' have! -- and no, I'm not knocked up -- and certainly not to *that* walking blockhead. I swear, all 'e's good for is carryin' his balls from one woman t' the next. I'm almost ashamed y' think I'd tumble the likes o' him!"

William sighed with relief and tried to apologise for the insult.

"No, no," she giggled, "I'm not mad at y'. Actually, it's sweet that y'd stick up f'r me like that. Y'r me best friend William." he felt himself blushing again. Whatever was the matter with the silly girl? She wasn't normally all gushy like this. "Will," she continued, "what I meant was, have *you* had experience... y'know... with a woman."

"Bloody hell, Emmy." he snorted trying to cover his embarrassment, "That's a bit personal, isn't it?"

"Well, yes 'n no," she replied, "'cause if y' haven't... then... then, I'm offerin', that's all."

And this time she'd actually managed to shock him. Stupefied, he stood there watching her walk away until she realised he'd stopped and came back. "Emmy?" and her name came out squeaky and full of confusion even to his own ears.

When she realised the depth of his distress, she took both his hands in hers and stood determinedly in front of him. "Will, I *know* y' know about sex." she stated baldly, "'cause there ain't a child alive on these streets who 'asn't seen it or listened to it all o' their lives. But I also know that y'r marked," and her eyes flicked up to the little symbol above his left eye. "and there's not a woman alive who'll marry you while that's on you, 'cause she'll always have the fear for a husband who won't come home one night. 'Cause o' that, they figure there's no point in givin' y' a tumble -- it'll never go anywhere t' their mind."

And that was the cold hard truth. He'd been told it often enough, until he'd stopped bothering, even to flirt. It was the one time he'd become so frustrated with his life that he'd actually tried to get rid of the mark by cutting it out of his skin with a knife. But he'd botched the job with his anger and his shaking hands, and all he had to show for the effort was a small scar in the eyebrow under it -- the rest of it had all healed up perfectly in a matter of minutes -- the magic of the mark itself he supposed.

"But, Will," Emmy continued earnestly, "y'r 16 now -- I might lose y' t' th' Hunt come October. An while I don't love y' in the marryin' way, I do love y' as much as I love anyone in th' world -- and more than I love some o' th' family, truth be told. I don't know if y've already taken a woman, but I think y'r too proud t' pay f'r one, and I know the others won't touch y'. So, if... if y'd like... that is..." and then she stopped, took a calming breath and looked William straight in the eyes, "if y' want me William, I'd like t' show y' how it is."

Will couldn't speak. His eyes stung and he blinked quickly, not giving the tears he could feel any chance to embarrass him. "Emmy..." he choked, clutching her hands close to his chest, "I don't... I mean... you don't..."

"I want to, Will -- if you do too."

He took a shuddery breath. This might well be his only chance -- everything she'd said was true, and at sixteen he was still a virgin. He didn't want to die that way, and most important of all... he knew that Emmy loved him. It might not be the love of a woman for her true mate -- the man she'd marry -- but it was love nonetheless, and all the better because he knew her well enough to know that it wouldn't break their friendship if either of them was unhappy with it. "Emm..." he leaned in and awkwardly tried a kiss. She stepped up close against him and gently returned it.

It was like kissing rose petals -- soft, warm -- with the scent of laundry soap and clean linen on her. Will ended the kiss by stepping back a little to look at her. She'd never seemed so... so... 'feminine' before. It was as if somebody had sneaked up behind him and hit him over the head with the fact that he was a sixteen year old 'boy' and she was a nineteen year old 'woman'. It felt as if every drop of blood in his body was heading for his crotch.

"Emm..." he tried again.

"Hush lover," and she reached up to place a finger against his lips. "It gets better," she promised, "and John's already gone back t' the sea -- was leavin' when you arrived."

William looked at her curiously.

She smiled seductively, "I keep his flat tidy f'r 'im while 'e's away. I've got the key." and then they were gone.

---- oo00oo ----

It was a magical night. Not because there was great romance air; or because they had a burning passion that had to be consummated -- but because they were friends; because they loved one another well; and ultimately, because they knew how to laugh with each other.

For Will, the night was a revelation. Sex by yourself was pretty good, but sex with a woman -- or at least, sex with Emmy -- was *incredibly* good. He told her afterwards that he'd decided to add women to his list of 'Very Good Things'. It was a joke between them, because it was Emmy who'd actually started the list years ago, and who semi-seriously kept it up-to-date by pretending to add things to it or take things off it whenever he expressed a preference one way the other. The truth was, of course, that if there was anyone who would know what he liked or didn't like -- it was Emmy; and he'd even had cause a time or two to wonder whether she actually *did* keep such a list, though he'd never asked. She told him that night -- with a perfectly straight face -- that 'Emilia Cathryn Jones' had been added to the list -- at the top of course, because she damn well deserved to come before chocolate and cigarettes.

To which he'd replied that it didn't make much difference really, since she'd always been first anyway.

They decided to have sex again, and then fell asleep afterwards, tangled up in each other's arms, in the middle of John's bed.

---- oo00oo ----

It wasn't until at least a week later that William finally returned to visit Lizzy. Having been so capably distracted by Emmy, he hadn't been focused on Elizabeth at all, and so the strength of his welcome took him completely by surprise.

---- oo00oo ----

Gently, Will poked Lizzy's sleeping shoulder. "Hey li'l bit," he breathed, "wake up, it's me."

"Will?" a sleepy voice begged.

"Nobody else here, Lizzy." he smiled.

"Will!" and he suddenly had a limpet clinging to him for dear life. "You're okay! You came back!"

"Sshhh, hush..." he whispered urgently, "You gotta be quiet li'l bit! If somebody hears you, I *won't* be able to come back!"

She quieted immediately, but continued to cling.

"Lizzy, what's wrong?" William asked softly.

"You went away. You didn't come back."

"But Lizzy, I go away all the time. You knew that didn't you? From before we talked?"

The little girl nodded. "But then I talked to you, and you came every night. Then you didn't come."

"Oh." William hadn't thought of how that might look to a child. Carefully, he explained to her that sometimes he might *not* come for a visit -- even for a very long time.

"Weeks, even?" came the plaintive inquiry.

"Even weeks, li'l bit," he sorrowfully assured her. "but I'll always *try* to come back -- I can promise that much at least."

"But *why* can't you come all the time?"

Patiently he explained that vampire godfathers were very rare, and so the vampire king often wanted him at court. He couldn't very well say 'no' to the Prince of Darkness, now could he? After all, would she tell the Queen of England that she couldn't come to court because her vampire godfather wanted to see her?

"That's silly, Will," came the surprising answer, "the Queen wants to see people in the daytime, and you can only come at night."

"Well, you got me there, Lizzy," he told her, "but *my* king is a vampire too, right? So *he* always wants to see me at night. What can I do then, Luv?"

Elizabeth mulled that over for a while before finally asking, "Will you come see me as much as you can?"

"Yes." he replied. "I can definitely do that."

"Okay then."

---- oo00oo ----

For a nearly a month after that, William found that he was quite... disturbed... by Emmy's presence and often used his visits with Elizabeth as a kind of calming ritual before visiting Emmy. That way, he at least managed to avoid embarrassing himself -- and her -- in front of all her neighbours and friends. Not that they ever paid much attention to him.

In everyone else's opinion William was a 'bad lad' and destined for a bad end under a vampire's fangs. Will knew Emmy had often been asked why she put up with him -- once even while he was standing right there next to her. Her answer was always the same -- "He's my friend." she would say, and then 'look' at them as if to say 'and you're not, so push off'. Still, William didn't want to make it harder for her. He enjoyed her friendship too much for that. But sometimes -- especially after that first night -- he just wanted so much to *touch* her.

Which she knew of course, and even seemed to find flattering. They stole many more nights together before her eldest brother John eventually returned home to a tidy and well-cleaned flat. If he ever suspected anything, he never said, but then John had always kept a soft spot in his heart for his very level-headed little sister.

William never let on in public that there was anything more than friendship between them -- he would never ruin Emmy's reputation either by word or deed. She, in turn, never so much as breathed a hint that William had been a virgin for so long. They were the best of friends, and sometimes lovers, and after the first month or so, Will's fire for her touch burned down to a pleasant warmth that could be savoured between them without the haste or intensity of their first few trysts. Both knew, without words, that they would gradually break it off, and it happened only a short while before they both thought it would -- when Ian O'Malley, the baker's son, started finding excuses to visit with Emmy after work. Emmy returned his interest, and William faded into the background, not wanting to come between them, or give Ian any cause to think he might have a rival for her affections.

But oh, it hurt sometimes -- to know that *he*, who'd never had a Mum or Dad, would also never have a wife or family. But still, at least there was Lizzy, and sometimes a chat in the pub with a very happy Emmy. The rest of his time was his own, and he ran the streets as he always did -- smokes and beer, and the occasional brawl, and sometimes -- though not too often -- a quick tumble on a strange bed with a lass who was looking for a good time, but not a husband.

The years passed without much change, punctuated by the fear each October that *this* year might be the one when the Hunt would finally claim him. But it never did, and the relief after Halloween was past and the Hunt was over, was always the same.

---- oo00oo ----

Three years after Lizzy first spoke to him, and Emmy first loved him -- not long after he turned 19 -- the moment he'd dreaded most for Lizzy's sake finally arrived. She was now seven years old and in her third year of school. They had apparently been studying a child's version of history, including the Vampire War, and the Law the vampire king had laid down afterwards that humanity had to obey. Somewhere in the carefully edited tales of what had happened, she'd managed to figure out that her precious godfather wasn't a vampire at all, and was, in fact, very likely to be killed by one at some vague point in the future.

It was an absolutely inconsolable Elizabeth who cried herself sick for an entire week, while steadfastly refusing to tell anyone what was wrong. The first night William turned up after that dreadful day, she flung herself at him and heaved great gulping sobs into his shirt, muffling the noise so that no-one would hear her and come take William away.

Will was finally forced to tell a seven-year-old girl that he was the Substitute for her older brother, which was why he was allowed into the house without the 'arms' grabbing him.

She smiled weakly at the old joke, and later -- after more wild sobbing -- she finally managed to gulp out, "I wish... I wish..." but couldn't bring herself to say it. Jonathan was never nice to her, but he wasn't mean either, and she couldn't find it in her heart to wish it was him instead of Will. Finally, she settled on the declaration: "I love you more than him, Will."

"I know you do li'l bit," he replied, "and you know what? I love *you* more than I love him, too."

She giggled at that, since she knew very well that Will thought her brother was a stuck-up ponce.

Well that was alright, so did she.

---- oo00oo ----

Ironically, the night that William first believed his life was about to end was the result of purely human efforts. At 21, he was widely considered to be a 'rude young man' with the luck of the very devil to have lived so long without being chosen for the Hunt. He'd been out and away from the Melles' house for over a week, when -- at some unknown and godawful time in the early pre-dawn -- a bunch of thugs jumped out of an alley behind him and threw a sack over him.

He was thumped on the back of the head -- not too hard, but hard enough to stun the sense out of him -- and roughly grabbed, tied, and thrown down onto something hard that smelled like old car tires. It didn't take a genius to figure out he'd been kidnapped and was now in the boot of some bugger's car. "Bollox!" he groaned. If he hadn't been drinking, his reflexes might've been better -- he might've been able to... but no, there'd been too many of them and he simply hadn't been paying attention. //Stupid, stupid!// he cursed himself. He indulged in a bit of foul language just to blow off steam, and then forced himself to think rationally about his situation.

He'd been kidnapped by persons unknown for reasons unknown. Actually, he could think of a few reasons -- but he couldn't recall anyone he owed money to at the moment, and he didn't think there was anyone who hated him enough to go to all the trouble and expense of hiring the blokes who'd jumped him. The sex trade didn't take people -- even kids -- who were marked because most other humans felt that marked kids should be happy while they could be; and people always reported a marked kid to the cops if they saw one in a brothel. As adults, the marked were not welcome in the sex industry because even though people *knew* the Hunt was only for seven nights in October, there was still the fear that a vampire might come looking -- just to scope out the possibilities. So that left... bloody hell, that left the weirdos who liked to watch vampires feeding on their fellow man.

*Those* nutters would leave a bunch of marked people, men and women, in various confined places not too far from each other, and then sit back and wait to see whether a vampire would come for one. They could tell if it *was* a vampire because one of them would be watching the door, with a television monitor beside them, and if someone came in who didn't show up on the monitor -- well, that was a vampire. As soon as a vampire was confirmed, meaning that the marked human inside was 'active', then the nutcase watching the door would call up his mates and they'd all rush over to stare at the show. It was a big thing in some circles to say you'd actually seen a vampire feeding.

Of course, it was a bit more significant when they found out that the vampire in question wasn't likely to look kindly upon an audience. He or she wouldn't bite you -- that was forbidden by their own king's edict -- but that same king didn't seem to have any problems with a few broken bones or the occasional death of one of the more obnoxious voyeurs. After all, they *had* interfered with the Hunt, which was vampire business.

But the Hunt was still more than three weeks away, and Will had been lucky for five years now. There was no more reason to believe he'd go 'active' this year than in any previous year.

Unless they knew something he didn't.

//No, no, no, no, no.... It can't be! *Nobody* knows until it happens -- nobody!// Will was definitely sweating now. Sternly, he told himself to calm down, he was 21 -- a grown man -- he'd been in worse scrapes... Well, no, actually he hadn't... //God dammit -- I think I'm actually panicking here.// Yes. He was definitely panicking. How nice.

He managed to avoid screaming and thrashing around, refusing to give whoever was driving the satisfaction of knowing how terrified he was. He'd more or less got over the sweating and the shakes by the time they arrived -- wherever they hell they were -- and it was shortly after the car stopped moving that Will received his next big shock -- Lady Melles' voice! //Bloody hell, it's the Bitch!// he realised. //I can hear the Bitch's voice! What the fuck's goin' on?!//

Well, one thing for sure, it certainly wasn't vampire voyeurs -- arseholes, yeah, but not nutters at least. It also told Will that he could relax about the Hunt, since the Bitch had never had any more idea about why a marked human went 'active' than anybody else did. If she *had* known, she certainly wouldn't have had his *very* expensive medallion made. At sixteen, after the Hunt had passed him by for the first time, she'd presented him with the medallion, commenting that, "at least now we'll *know*".

But the fact that she was here now still left him with more questions than answers. //Maybe they finally decided to lock me up,// he thought, and shuddered at the idea, //but Lizzy would help me out.// Lord and Lady Melles still didn't know how much their sweet Elizabeth loved her 'godfather' -- as she'd decided to keep calling him after she'd discovered he wasn't a vampire.

The boot opened and William was hauled out of the car. The sack was pulled off his head, and he squinted in the weak morning sun, trying to see where the hell he was. He blinked in surprise as he recognised the lower kitchen door of the Melles' house -- the same door for which he still carried a key, hidden away in an inside pocket.

"Well, William," Lady Melles was apparently lowering herself to actually speak to him. "It would appear that you are still living down to all my expectations." and she sniffed disdainfully at his dishevelled appearance and the smell of smoke and alcohol.

"Yeah, well, it's the company I keep, Luv," and he smirked, implying that *her* company probably had a lot to do with it. She stiffened and motioned a hand towards one of the bully boys. The one on his right promptly sucker-punched him in the stomach. Gasping and doubled over, Will took the opportunity to get a good look at the men surrounding him. He thought he recognised one, and with a sinking feeling realised they were part of the private firm hired by the Melles for security. They were well-trained and a lot bigger than he was. Unless they screwed up -- //Not likely,// he thought -- it would be virtually impossible to escape.

He was roughly hauled upright. "That will be quite enough of that, William." Lady Melles continued coldly. "It will, of course, have completely escaped your limited attention that one of my husband's many companies has decided to open a new branch in America. My husband, being *the* major stockholder and an astute business man in his own right, has been asked by the board of directors to oversee the first few years of its foundation, to ensure that everything runs smoothly with their American associates. This is will provide an excellent opportunity for our family to expand its interests into the American market."

She seemed quite pleased with her little speech, and Will wondered how many other captive audiences she'd inflicted it on before deciding to grace him with it. Eventually, he realised that she was waiting for a response.

"So?" he asked obligingly. Her lips thinned, but he didn't get hit again. //What did she think I was gonna say?// he glowered, //Bloody Congratulations?!//

"So," she mimicked, "we're moving to America -- specifically, to Los Angeles."

"How nice," he replied, "Have a good trip." //Oh well, it's not like I sleep here anymore anyway.//

He noticed that the Bitch had put her 'calm and collected' mask back in place. That didn't bode well. "There is currently some question as to whether the Substitution spell will work while you and Jonathan are separated by an ocean the size of the Atlantic. Also, an American vampire might not be able to tell that Jonathan *has* a Substitute if you are not even in the same country." She waited for that to sink in.

It didn't take long. "But, I don't *want* to go to America!"

"What you want is completely irrelevant, William. We are leaving today. Jonathan is going, therefore you are going." and with that Lady Melles turned away and swept back into the house.

Leaving Will sandwiched between three hulking security guards.

They manhandled him into one of the bathrooms, stripped him naked and told him to wash or they'd do it for him. Feeling humiliated enough already, he obliged in silence. When he got out, there were fresh clothes waiting for him -- simple jeans, t-shirt, and shoes. They weren't his favourite colour (black), but it was better than he'd feared. At least they weren't going to dress him up like a nancy boy. "Hey, wait a minute... where's my duster?" His beat-up and much loved coat had vanished from the room.

"Burned with the rest of it by now," came the uncaring answer.

"Son of a bitch!" and William managed at least one good punch to the bastard's eye before they took him down.

---- oo00oo ----

Some unknown time later, he woke -- sore and aching -- in a seat at the back of the plane, handcuffed to one of Melles' security people, and on his way to America.

He spent the entire miserable trip -- over 12 hours, with a stopover in *Zurich* of all places -- handcuffed to one or another of the stormtroopers. It amused him somewhat that the one with the black eye was *not* among them. He wondered what they'd told airport security about the handcuffs, but since the people seated around him were avoiding eye contact like the plague, he supposed he must look like a murderer or something. Oh well. He debated trying to escape, but where could he go? He was already in the air and presumably a long way from British shores -- he had no money, no contacts, and no citizenship outside England.

At least *that* had been interesting.

Apparently he had a passport.

The stormtrooper attached to him had handed it over to a customs officer when they touched down on American soil for the first time. Will quickly managed to snatch it back before the guard did, and had a bloody good look through it before reluctantly returning it to his bemused keeper. Emmy had once asked him what his last name was, and he'd been forced to admit that he didn't know. He'd kind of wondered about it, off and on, ever since.

//William Smith? William Black? William Thompson? William Melles?// -- he still shuddered at *that* possibility. But since he didn't know where his birth certificate was, and couldn't read it even if he did, he hadn't let it worry him. He'd occasionally thought about asking the Bitch, but he'd be damned in Hell before he'd go asking *her* for favours -- especially about something so personal. However, truth was apparently stranger than fiction, and after a good look at his passport, William finally had his answer. He might not be able to read, but he knew how to print the letters of his own name -- Emmy had taught him -- and he knew what words looked like, and that they were separated by spaces. He could see "William" printed clearly in his passport -- but there was nothing behind it. Apparently his mum hadn't known who his dad was, and hadn't wanted to give him her own family name. So he'd never been given one at all.

That had been depressing.

Of the Bitch and Co. there was no sign, and Will assumed they had flown separately, trusting the security firm to get him where he was supposed to go. He certainly didn't want to see the Lord and Lady *or* their snotty son, but he would've enjoyed seeing Lizzy. //She must be *hating* all this,// he thought. He knew Mary -- still Lizzy's best friend -- would not be there for her in school anymore, and neither would any of her other friends, rivals, and familiar faces. He was sure his 'li'l bit' would be as unhappy about leaving Britain as he was himself.

He entertained himself on the trip by being as foul and annoying as he could to whichever schmuck had custody of him at the time. He steadfastly insisted on punching, kicking, and biting every time one of them hit him, and both sides acquired whole new sets of bruises. The cabin crew wouldn't even come near them unless he was sitting in the window seat -- the position furthest from the aisle. Finally, William and his keepers reached a mutual understanding. Michael -- the stormtrooper William hated least -- would be his permanent guard, and wouldn't lay a hand on him unless Will started it. The arrangement didn't stop *all* the bruises, because sometimes William was just so frustrated that he *needed* to hit someone and Michael was handy, but it *did* cut down on the collateral damage to passers-by and furniture.

Oddly enough, Michael even seemed to understand.

---- oo00oo ----

Eventually, they arrived.

Los Angeles was amazing. It was *huge*. Unbelievable. Breathtaking. Terrifying.

For William, who'd spent over half his life carving out a place for himself in London, it was the worst thing imaginable. How was he going to *survive* in this city? He didn't know *anything* about America or Americans. Did they do things the same way as they did in London? Somehow he doubted it. After all, they didn't even do things the same way in London itself. In some situations a cheery word on one side of the Thames could get you a black eye on the other -- and the Atlantic was a whole lot wider than the Thames!

It was a tired, depressed, and very lonely William who was finally brought before an equally tired Lady Melles -- one who obviously hadn't had nearly enough sleep in the last few days. William supposed that at least he hadn't had to worry about packing or anything.

"William," she sighed, "I really am much too tired to be bothered with you today." She gestured at Michael to remove the handcuffs. "You're here now, and all I require of you is that you stay in Los Angeles. Go wherever you want -- do whatever it is that you do when you're not here." she paused for a moment to reassure herself that he was actually listening.

"Let me simply say," she continued wearily, "that I expect you to report to Chef at least once a week to make sure that you *are* still here. If you don't, I'll assume you have decided to run, and I'll have you tracked down and brought back. If you force me to that extreme, I shall have you locked away until you're abominable good fortune runs out, and a vampire comes for you. Do you have any questions?"

"Just one," he replied, "Why Chef?"

Lady Melles blinked. He could practically hear her tired and befuddled mind trying to make sense of the question. Eventually she said, "Because he has to see you anyway when he feeds you."

Which was why he'd asked. The same conditions were going to prevail here as he'd had in London. Much as they might not like it, the Melles were still obligated to feed him and provide somewhere to sleep. As for clothing -- he would acquire that for himself, including a new duster, once he had a better idea of how things stood with regard to transplanted British blokes on Los Angeles streets.

"Fine." he said, "Where do I sleep?"

---- oo00oo ----

It was four miserable days later that he discovered Lizzy wasn't in Los Angeles. He'd tried to find her room in the new house that the Melles now occupied, but after some fruitless searching, had given up and asked one of the maids. The girl in question was an American, and new to the household, but she'd apparently been told all about him, and was currently looking at him as though he was a nasty disease of some kind. Once he let her know that he could be *very* obnoxious if he wanted to be, and that he wasn't going to go away until she answered him, she finally told him that, "the young Ladyship is at boarding school in England, and will only be visiting for holidays."

He was devastated -- and now, quite alone.

It was the first time that he really wished he knew how to write, for then they could at least have exchanged letters. But now, he was truly cut off from everyone and everything he'd ever known.

He couldn't remember when he'd last shed real tears -- but this time the pain was too much to bear without them.

---- oo00oo ----

On the upside of things, Los Angeles didn't seem to be as bad as he'd thought it would be. The first order of business was getting enough money to get the hell out of the house and away from the Bitch and Co. -- and their bloody servants! That wasn't too hard, as he simply made a pest of himself until Lady Melles gave him one hundred American dollars and told him to "get out". //With pleasure,// he thought and practically skipped down the street, sticking out his thumb until a passing car picked him up.

It was weird sitting on the wrong side of the car -- he was sure they were going to get cleaned up by oncoming traffic more than once, but the driver -- a nice bloke named 'Rick' -- offered free advice about buses, trains, and taxis until they arrived at his work in downtown LA and 'Rick' kicked him out.

The next thing he discovered about LA was that, if anything, the people here were even *more* sympathetic and helpful towards someone wearing the mark than they were in London. It helped, of course, that nobody knew him here, and that there was no-one to tell them about his less-than-upstanding reputation back home. At any rate, he soon managed to acquire a new wardrobe -- all in black of course -- *and* a second-hand duster that was still in reasonable shape, for well under the hundred dollars he had in his pockets. Of course, he cheated the salespeople outrageously. But in the end, he got what he wanted, and they came away feeling that they'd helped out a stranded foreigner who was under a terrible death sentence (what with the mark and all), and that they'd done their 'Good Deed' for the next hundred years, which would help their karma no end.

Oh, and they simply *loved* his accent.

Suckers.

So, the next thing to figure out was how to get around in LA. 'Rick' proved he'd been a reliable source after all, and his advice about buses and trains was pretty spot on. It was a bit of a hike back to the Melles' place from the nearest bus stop, but he wouldn't be going there more than once a week if he could help it -- unless, of course, the money ran out and he really needed a free meal. But he'd have to be pretty desperate for that!

So he spent the rest of his day playing tourist, eating cheap American sidewalk food, and wondering whether he'd be stepping on anybody's toes if he took up pickpocketing again. Probably. Better to play it safe and ask around -- but first, he'd have to find the right people to ask.

---- oo00oo ----

//Bloody hell, it's hard to find a decent pub in this city!// was his frustrated thought hours later. The problem seemed to be that although LA had plenty of nightclubs and bars, it didn't have any *pubs*. In London, it was normal for people from all walks of life to get home after work, get cleaned up, and then go out to their 'local' for the evening. In LA, it seemed that it was normal for people to get home from work, get cleaned up, and then settle *in* for the evening. The only exceptions to this were the younger set -- consisting of singles and couples -- who were going to nightclubs for a good time, or to the bars to get smashed. He couldn't *find* a bar that had the wives, aunties, and sisters mixed in with the dads, uncles and brothers that he knew from his life in London. He'd even been a bit shocked when he'd finally asked a couple of pretty girls where such a pub might be. They'd laughed and said "Who'd want to go out with their *Mom* for god's sake?!"

Eventually, he'd been forced to give in and admit that LA just didn't *have* 'pubs' as such, and the closest thing he was going to find were American-style bars or nightclubs.

Fine. He'd try them.

Once again, it didn't turn out quite like he'd thought it would. After several bars and no luck with any of them, he finally tried a nightclub; but no matter what he did, he couldn't seem to identify anybody who looked like a thief or a mugger, much less someone who looked like they might be in charge of such people. He was almost ready to believe that American thieves were too stupid to have any kind of organisation when he suddenly realised that he'd been picking up on who was in control of the various prostitutes and drug pushers with no problem. So, if he could pick *them* out alright, then he probably just wasn't looking in the right place for the thieves. This was both good and bad, because although he now had more confidence in his ability to recognise the right people, he also had less confidence in his ability to find them.

By now it was quite late -- or very early, depending on who you asked -- and Will was completely exhausted. He'd pretty much resigned himself to sleeping in an alleyway somewhere (it wouldn't be the first time), when a fight broke out right next to him. It was a nice short bout, good for getting the blood moving, but it ended all too soon when some joker pulled a gun, and Will reflexively screamed "I'm *marked* ya stupid bastard!" at which point everyone involved had leapt away from him -- terrified that they might be the one to inherit the mark if any of them killed him. After that, two of the nightclub's bouncers had thrown them all out -- except for William.

*He* was shown upstairs to the owner's office and asked if he'd like anything to drink. Confused, and sporting a few bruises, he still had the presence of mind to focus on the fact that someone was offering him free alcohol. "Uh, yeah mate, whatever you've got that's like English beer." The bouncer looked doubtful, but promised to see what he could find.

A few moments later a middle-aged man walked in, casually dressed, but with an air of authority. //The owner,// Will decided. He still didn't have a clue why he was in this bloke's office, but what the hell, he couldn't be in that much trouble if they were offering him free drinks.

"Well, kid," the owner began, "it seems I have you to thank for the lack of gunfire in my club tonight."

Will sat there, wondering if he was supposed to apologise or say 'you're welcome'.

"Unfortunately," the owner continued, "I get bullets -- not to mention fights and broken furniture -- flying around in here a lot more than my insurance premiums would like, and I've been trying to think up some way to put a stop to it for a while now." He paused to see whether Will was still paying attention.

//Yep. Sure am,// Will thought, //Get on with it before I get bored.//

"What I saw tonight was something I didn't think of -- having someone like you, someone with the mark -- in here to keep things calmed down. Nobody's gonna risk hurting you too much, and if you're as willing to jump into a fight as you were tonight, you'd be *perfect* for putting an end to the worst of my problems."

At that moment the bouncer came back with his beer.

Will took it gladly, and... //ughh -- *American* beer//. Still, while he was... um, 'enjoying' his beer, William considered what the owner was saying. Although he wouldn't have thought of it himself, the idea was sound. Once the bouncer was gone, he asked, "So... what? You're gonna offer me free drinks to come sit in your nightclub?"

"You're no damn good to me drunk, kid," the owner replied, "No, I want you sober, and I want you to jump on trouble -- literally -- as soon as you see it. For that, you have to be paying attention, not just sitting around."

//Alright, then mate,// William thought, //let's get down to brass tacks.// He knew a firm job offer when he heard it, and if they could come to some arrangement, he wouldn't have to worry about finding the local thieves, or greasing the palms of the local coppers. "So, what exactly are you offering, then?" he asked, "I don't like getting my nose busted any more than the next bloke, y'know."

The first thing Will discovered was that if he wanted to work legally in America, he had to have some kind of legal mumbo jumbo -- a green card, or something. When he admitted he didn't have one, and wasn't likely to get one, the owner became a bit cagey about the whole thing. William countered by offering to work for room and board, so long as he got a couple of nights off a week and enough cash to enjoy his life when he wasn't working. They argued back and forth for a bit and eventually settled on an agreeable bargain. The owner -- whose name turned out to be 'Eddie' of all things -- was surprisingly accommodating when he worked out how little it was going to cost to keep William happy.

"After all," Will told him, "it's not like I have to save up f'r me old age is it?"

---- oo00oo ----

Their arrangement worked out very well. The word quickly spread that Eddie had a guy with the mark working for him -- a guy who was perfectly happy to mix it up with men twice his size if anybody started something -- and who left his own fair share of bruises and lumps if they kept the fighting 'civilised' -- meaning nothing worse than fists.

Eddie contacted his insurance broker the next day, and a month later his premiums went down.

William got a place to sleep -- upstairs in an unused back office -- as well as free food from the bar, and a small wage which was enough to cover smokes, eating out (the bar food was okay, but monotonous after a while), and the occasional trip to the flicks to see the latest movie.

The only sticky moment they had, was when Will showed up for work on the first night of the Hunt; but when he pulled out his medallion -- still all in one piece -- Eddie had approved him for work, so long as he wore it outside his shirt, where everyone could see it.

All in all, it was actually better than what he'd had back in London.

Except for the loneliness.

---- oo00oo ----

Christmas was fast upon them the next time William managed to see Lizzy. He knew her parents would have her out for the holidays -- although he couldn't imagine why Vampire Law still *allowed* humans to celebrate Christmas -- and was looking forward to seeing her with an eagerness he hadn't felt in a long time.

He planned it very carefully, waiting until he knew she was there -- and then watching the maids come and go until he also knew which room she was in. Then, two nights before Christmas Eve, he'd slipped a note under her door, telling her to go to bed early the next night and to leave the window open.

The next night, a nine-year-old Lizzy waited breathlessly for her 'godfather' to shinny up some pipes and sneak across the roof to her bedroom window.

"Hello Lizzy," he said from the windowsill, "How are you, Luv?"

"Will!" and she didn't squeal or raise her voice, but he could hear all her happiness in his name, and he was practically dragged inside by a little girl who probably weighed less than the clothes he was wearing.

She 'oohed' and 'aahed' over his new duster, and listened intently while he told her all about LA and American beer and working for Eddie. In turn, he listened with an equally hungry ear as she told him about boarding school, and staying at Mary's house on the weekends, and Mary getting caught pouring dye into the swimming pool.

Finally, when they were both all caught up, Lizzy asked him, "Does Emmy know you're alright? I was ever so scared when they took Jonathan away -- I didn't know if they took you too, or if you just didn't know where I lived anymore. I couldn't ask, you see, because then they'd want to know *why* I was asking."

"You did exactly right, li'l bit," he reassured her. "and, no -- Emmy doesn't know. *They* didn't give me the chance to say goodbye -- to either of you."

"Do you want me to tell her? I could find her -- I *know* I could!"

Will thought about it. He certainly wasn't about to encourage a nine-year-old to go wandering about in London -- particularly not in the places she was likely to find Emmy -- but on the other hand, Lizzy could read and write as well as anybody in their fourth year of school. He could tell her what to write, and she could very easily mail a letter for him when she went home. He knew Emmy's address... but...

Someday he *was* going to be Hunted -- and probably killed. The Hunt this year had been the first time since he'd turned sixteen that he hadn't managed to let Emmy know he had survived another year. She would have mourned him by now, and moved on. Was it fair to take that away from her -- to let her know he was still alive, so that she would be forced to mourn him all over again one day? Perhaps it would be better if she *didn't* know.

"But Will..." Lizzy protested, "... it's *Emmy!*" and he'd told Lizzy enough over the years for her to know -- at least a little -- how very much Emilia Jones meant to him. So he carefully explained why it might be best if she only had to cry once, when she'd still have her family and friends around her to help her and hold her until the hurt went away.

"But what about *me*?" Lizzy had cried, "Who's going to help *me* and hold *me* when... when..." and she gulped, unable to say it. "If I haven't got Emmy," she sobbed, "then there won't be *anybody* -- nobody who *loves* you like *I* do..."

And Will had caved in, realising that Lizzy would *need* somebody when the time came, and while Emmy had always been surrounded by love, Lizzy would never be able to tell her family why she was grieving -- they wouldn't understand it, and would -- perhaps -- be horrified to find out that she'd even known he existed. His Emmy and Lizzy weren't from the same social class, and they didn't move in the same circles -- it was almost a given that they'd never meet -- but they *could* write to each other, and perhaps -- after he was really gone -- they could console one another.

But whatever else he decided, he knew he couldn't leave his 'li'l bit' to grieve his loss someday, all by herself.

So they got out a pencil and paper, and she wrote what he told her. She wasn't sure of the spelling for a lot of the words, but Will said it would be fine because Emmy was very smart and she'd figure it out. They decided that Lizzy would put Mary's address on the back of the envelope and tell Emmy that she should pretend to be nine years old and a friend of Lizzy's from school. When they were finished, they sealed up the envelope and carefully hid it in Lizzy's suitcase. Then Lizzy fell asleep, curled up in his lap, and he put her back to bed, tucked her in, and slipped out the window.

He got the next night off too, by telling Eddie he had family visiting for a few days from England, but the Melles household was packed with Christmas guests -- half of whom were staying the night -- and he knew he wouldn't be able to get near the place, so he packed it in and went to the movies instead.

The next time he managed to get a night off, Lizzy had already gone back to England.

---- oo00oo ----

Winter gradually turned into Spring, and then Summer. William lived to see his 22nd birthday, and finally, Lizzy came for another visit, secretly bringing letters from Emmy with her. This time, they managed to meet every night for the entire two weeks of Lizzy's visit -- although William could never stay long because by the end of the first week, Eddie was complaining loudly about lazy Englishmen who ate his food and never turned up for work. But they both knew he was only sounding off -- William was too good for the insurance premiums, and worked too cheaply, for Eddie to actually fire him.

Emmy's letters were a joy. She wrote the first one to Lizzy, and -- when Lizzy wrote back, saying she would show them all to Will the next time she visited -- the subsequent letters were all written to both of them. Though of course, only Lizzy's name was on the outside of the envelopes.

Ian, it appeared, had finally asked Emmy to marry him, and she had said yes. Lizzy thought it was *sooo* romantic, but when she actually read the letter, puzzling out the words she didn't know, William could tell that what Emmy really meant was that she'd gotten sick of waiting for the stupid git to make up his mind, and had given him an ultimatum. The idiot had apparently got over his shock at realising that she wouldn't wait for him forever, and had done the one smart thing in his life that would guarantee his happiness, even if he never made another intelligent decision, ever again.

And now, at the ripe old age of 25, his Emmy was getting married.

Together, he and Lizzy wrote back -- congratulating her and wishing her every joy -- telling her what was happening in Will's life, and wishing they could both visit her one day. They wrote about America, because she wanted to know, and Lizzy laughed when Will told her what to write about American beer and the lack of decent pubs.

All too soon it came to an end, and Lizzy had to go.

She wouldn't be back until Christmas, and he promised her that if *this* year was the one when the vampires got him, he'd leave the remains of his medallion for her in their secret spot in the cupboard, so she'd at least *know* and not have to wonder whether he just couldn't get in to see her -- as had happened on Christmas Eve the year before.

And then they hugged, and said goodbye, and Will waited until she fell asleep before he climbed stealthily out the window, and went back to Eddie's club.

---- oo00oo ----

Unfortunately, this year William's luck *did* finally run out. At 22 years of age, on the morning of the 25th of October -- seven nights before Halloween -- William had been woken by the sound and feel of his medallion imploding. He was now 'active' for the Hunt, and he had until nightfall to make his preparations -- or at least his last will and testament.

Well, he didn't have anything to leave anybody anyway, and he'd long since planned out everything he could think of in preparation for this moment. The now-active mark would prevent him from entering holy places like the local church -- not that he'd ever been in it -- and Eddie wouldn't have him in the club after dark, knowing that a vampire would almost certainly sniff him out and come looking. Eddie couldn't afford to have vampires Hunting in his club -- it would be very bad for business.

But Will already had everything he needed. He'd saved up enough cash for more than a week off work. He already had a couple of bolt-holes scattered around the city. He was nocturnal by choice, and wouldn't be tired or off-colour from the necessity of staying awake all night and sleeping by day. He was also well stocked with holy water, stakes, and crossbows -- hidden in various spots around the city. It might not do him any good, or it might save his ass, but he was as prepared as he could be, and he was *not* going down without a fight!

Shakily, he decided *not* to bother hiding the broken medallion, and went to find Sebastian, the club's resident cat -- supposedly a great rat hunter, but in reality mooching off William's good nature. He'd never owned a pet, and having been 'owned' by the Melles his entire life, didn't really consider that he 'owned' Sebastian. The soppy feline was always good for a cuddle and company, so long as you fed him, and William did just that, emptying out the box of cat treats in a tidy little pile -- knowing he wouldn't be back to hand them out one by one.

Next, he went downstairs to see Gus. Gus was the cleaner, and was usually still working at this time of the morning, since he had to come in when the night-time customers were absent, but also when it was still early enough to let him hold down a second job during the day. The young man had a wife and son to support, and he was very conscious of the responsibility. He was nice enough, but not somebody Will knew all that well -- which would make things considerably easier.

Gus paled a bit and swayed when he saw the remains of Will's medallion. His mouth worked soundlessly until William rescued him by saying, "Don't sweat it Gus. I knew it was coming, and now it's here, well, that's that. Nothing to be done about it now."

Gus nodded, still pale and shocked.

"Would you do us a favour, mate?" Will asked casually, "Let Eddie know, eh? Tell him I won't be in tonight -- or, well... any night, really."

Gus nodded again, and Will took pity on him and went to pack up his stuff. There wasn't much of it -- he only wanted what could be easily carried anyway -- and then he left his key on Eddie's desk, and let himself out into the dawn's light.

---- oo00oo ----

He was on his way the Melles household to fulfil his promise to Lizzy by leaving his medallion for her, when it suddenly occurred to him that there *was* -- by god -- something else that he was *bloody* well gonna do when he got there! So he turned around and made a quick side-trip over to one of the less reputable suburbs of LA, mugged his first American, and stole the yank's gun. Then he continued on towards the Bitch and Co. with a song in his heart and a truly evil smile on his face.

---- oo00oo ----

End Part I